ATHENS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart is all about controlling the controllables, and even though the weather falls outside that range, his players’ mindsets do not.
“I always say it’s only a big deal if you make it a big deal,” Smart said, asked about the likelihood that Saturday’s game at Missouri will be the Bulldogs’ coldest of the season. “Some of our guys act like it’s freezing — they’ve got to get over it.”
It could feel like it’s below freezing if the forecast for the noon kick game (TV: SEC Network) holds up. An overcast day with a temperature of around 38 degrees and a 13-mph wind is expected, putting the wind chill factor at 30 degrees.
UGA quarterback JT Daniels led his team to victory in the California open division state championship game in 2017, and now he’ll be asked to prove he can lead the Bulldogs in cold weather.
Not all of his Georgia teammates are inexperienced in the cold, however.
That’s nothing for Georgia senior outside linebacker Jermaine Johnson, an Eden Prairie, Minn., product who learned early in his football career how to deal with cold weather contests.
“For me, it was always just getting the first couple of plays out of the way in the game, after that, it’s all a mental game,” Johnson said. “It’s going be cold, but it’s one of the things you can’t control. You can’t let it beat you.”
Johnson remembers one of his prep games was almost canceled on account of cold weather in Savage, Minn., just south of Minneapolis.
“It was so cold, we got to the school and it was like zero degrees … it felt like negative 18,” Johnson said, factoring in the wind chill. “I was out there five minutes and my toes went numb. You couldn’t feel yourself running.”
Smart said the Bulldogs have practiced outside all week in preparation for the game, though it hasn’t been as cold in Athens as it’s expected to be in Missouri.
“It qualifies as cold to me when you can see your breath,” Smart said, recalling a 1997 game at Sanford Stadium against Auburn where the wind chill made the temperature drop to freezing.
Smart joked he had his apprehensions about how this current team might handle it.
“I’d love to tell you they respond the right way, but they don’t always, our kids are warm weather kids,” Smart said. “Doesn’t matter if they are from Georgia, Florida, or Alabama, most of our kids are Southern kids, they have to acclimate, they have to get going.”
Redshirt sophomore Warren Ericson, who’s expected to make his first career start at center in place of Trey Hill, said the offensive line is ready to take the challenge.
“100 percent, we’re full-on ready to embrace that, we are accepting that challenge,” said Ericson, who played at North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee. “Georgia is a lite different than Missouri as far as the weather goes.
“ The O-Line (is going with) no sleeves and no gloves, and getting pumped and amped to play in a cold game, that’s going to be our mindset.”
Ericson said he’s played amid near-freezing temperatures before, his senior year in the state championship game in Suwanee where records reflect it was 34 degrees with a 29-degree wind chill factor.
“I was playing center, and I made the mistake of not even warming my hand up before the first snap, and as I put my hand on the ball I realized I could not even feel my hand,” Ericson said.
“The ball just absorbs that cold; you put your hand on the ball, and it’s almost as cold as the ground. You have to be ready for that and have that feel to get ready for that cold ball.”